QC Made: Lead(h)er

QC Made: Lead(h)er

Melissa Pepper, Founder & Sarah Stevens, Executive Director

Quad Citizen Profile

“I think it is really awesome that here, I can go to people of either side of the spectrum - financial, political, power - with an idea and have them all be receptive of it. That may not be too attainable in a bigger city like Chicago.”

Melissa Pepper is the founder of Lead(h)er, a non-profit organization that connects women with local, experienced leaders to help fuel career and community engagement. The signature program of Lead(h)er is the Strike a Match program, which gives you an individually recruited mentor based on the exact thing you desire to achieve - whether that be career advancement, connection to the community, or even the desire to create something off the wall, like a charity for 3-5-year-old softball players living in Nebraska. Whatever you want to achieve, Lead(h)er will try to find a mentor to help you do just that.

Melissa decided to start this program less than two years ago in the Quad Cities - recruiting in Sarah Stevens, Lead(h)er’s Executive Director, just after launch. Both wanted to find something meaningful and impactful to the local community. 

“I had five or six friends of mine all move away within the same summer because of jobs. I felt that if people don’t have the roots and support within a community, they won’t feel compelled to stay. Lead(h)er is about connecting women within the community so they have that support system to help with jobs, involvement, or whatever they need.”

When asked why start Lead(h)er in the Quad Cities, and not somewhere in Chicago, they both explained the difference in the time involved: “The Quad Cities is an awesome place to achieve those goals you have because [the community] is small enough that people can grow their networks in ways that don’t seem insurmountable. It’s hard to grow your network in Chicago,” Melissa said.

“Here, it will take you two steps to get to the person you want to talk to about the idea you have. In Chicago, it will take you seven,” Sarah agrees.

Melissa emphasized people’s willingness to help and give feedback is another reason why Lead(h)er thrived here: “I think it is really awesome that here, I can go to people of either side 7of the spectrum - financial, political, power - with an idea and have them all be receptive of it. That may not be too attainable in a bigger city like Chicago.”

Sarah is a Quad City native and came back after college to settle down. Melissa attended Augustana after high school and decided to put down roots after graduating. Both of them agreed that there are plenty of reasons why they decided to stay in the Quad Cities, like the cost of living and the size of the area, but for them, their formative years here is what made them come back and stay. Sarah said she specifically came back to raise her kids here. “I believed that my kids would have more well-rounded relationships because of the size of the community. It’s easier to foster those relationships here, and I am hopeful that what they learn here about the power of connection will help them in the future and help them learn where to settle.”

Melissa credits some of her experiences at Augustana and the community as why the Quad Cities was the place for her. “Augie is really good at making you learn and think about your relationship to the community, and was extremely formative in making me a ‘Doer.’ I have the ability here to sit in those meetings with executives and have my opinions listened to and understood, and not just dismissed because I’m too young or inexperienced.  Through Augie and through this community,  I’ve been given the opportunity to say something and do the things in the community I do now - with responsive and encouraging feedback. That’s why it felt like the right place.”

The Quad Cities is a lively and vibrant place, and Make it Here wants to make sure that young people who come to this community can see that it is a great place to build a career and community support with the help of programs like Lead(h)er.

Sarah sums it up perfectly: “There’s much more possibility here to take the thing you are dreaming about and make it real. As a young person who is just starting out their lives, you can notice there are things that are really exciting about moving, starting a career or business. With all that, it can be scary. You can risk a lot and you may fail, but the great thing about the Quad Cities  is you can create those connections and that community that will be there to catch you if you fall.”


You can check out Melissa Pepper & Sarah Stevens’s organization at www.leadherqc.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/leadherqc.

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Make it Here is a celebration of who we are as Quad Citizens. We are entrepreneurs and volunteers, innovators and collaborators. No matter what your passion, you can make it here.  We hope you’ll join us by sharing your story.

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